FYI

Dentist blog from Delta Dental

Tag: accessibility

Glaucoma and its surprising connection to oral health

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Learn more about the diseases link to oral health and what you can do for your patients with glaucoma.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma occurs when a buildup of fluid causes pressure in the eyes to increase to abnormal levels, damaging the optic nerve. The resulting nerve damage causes partial or total blindness in the affected eye. After it occurs, this vision loss can’t be reversed, but early treatment to reduce eye pressure may reduce or halt the damage.

More than 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, and the number of people who have the disease is expected to more than double by 2050, according to the National Eye Institute. While anyone, including children, can get glaucoma, the condition is most common in:

  • People over age 60
  • African Americans over age 40
  • People who have a family history of the disease

OK, but how is glaucoma connected to oral health?

Various studies suggest a connection between poor oral health and glaucoma. A 26-year study of more than 40,000 men over the age of 40 found a correlation between tooth loss and primary open-angle glaucoma.

The study found that the risk for glaucoma was 43% greater in men who had lost at least one tooth than those who didn’t lose any teeth. When periodontal disease was also factored in, the glaucoma risk for men with tooth loss increased to 86% higher than men with no tooth loss.

While the specific cause isn’t certain, researchers speculate that bacteria at the site of the tooth loss can cause inflammation, which triggers microbes and cytokines that can affect the eyes.

What can I do for my patients with glaucoma?

If you have patients who been diagnosed with glaucoma, here are few steps you can take to help control the condition and make their visit easier:

  • Determine whether you patients are at risk for the disease. Review patients’ personal and family medical history to see whether glaucoma runs in their family.
  • Be sure that patients with glaucoma or are at risk for the disease schedule regular dental cleanings. Preventive care not only helps improve the health of teeth and gums, it can also help improve patients’ overall health and help prevent conditions that lead to inflammation, which can contribute to worsening glaucoma.
  • Ensure that patients who have gum disease follow the treatment regimen you prescribe for them. Along with tooth loss, periodontitis has been linked to inflammation and other health problems
  • Choose sedatives carefully. Certain sedatives used during dental procedures contain ingredients that can increase pressure in the optic nerve.
  • Take steps to accommodate low-vision and blind patients. A few simple steps can make their visit and treatment easier and safer. Delta Dental can also translate written materials, such as plan information, to Braille or audio for blind and low-vision patients. Contact Customer Service to make this request with 72 hours’ notice.

Tips for caring for your blind and low-vision patients

October is Blindness Awareness Month and it’s the perfect time to reevaluate some of your accessibility practices. Approximately 12 million Americans over 40 are visually impaired, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 1 million are blind and 2 million have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of low-vision and blindness among adults over 50. Additionally, studies have linked periodontal disease to retinal degeneration and certain oral bacteria to glaucoma

Not all visual impairments are obvious, so it’s important to offer options to your patients.

What you can do for your patients

Accessibility doesn’t necessarily mean big digital and office modifications. Being mindful of blind and low-vision patients and their needs can create a better dental experience for everyone involved. A little bit of awareness goes a long way in creating a safer and more dignified dental visit for your patient.

  • Need to remind a patient of an upcoming appointment? Text messages or email are often preferred methods. Paper reminders via mail are often not accessible for blind and low-vision patients.
  • During appointments, don’t assume that your patient is able to visually take in everything, such as X-rays. Verbally state any important information such as your name, what procedure you’re performing and anything else that should be known. Additionally, if you have to leave the room, let the patient know.
  • Tempting as it may be, guide dogs have an important job to do. If a patient arrives with a guide dog, understand that by petting it or offering treats, you may be interfering with it helping its owner. Always ask before approaching.
  • Even the simplest webpages can have coding that’s difficult for magnification and screen reader users. Make your website easier to use for blind and low-vision patients by using alt-text for images, being thoughtful with colors and choosing descriptive phrases for linking.
  • If you need to prescribe any medication to your patients, talk to them about how often they should take it and anything else they should know. Often times, side effects and other crucial information can be printed quite small.

Resources from Delta Dental

When your patients need a little extra help with their benefits, Delta Dental is here to help.

  • For any questions about their coverage, members can simply call 866-530-9675 and speak to a customer service representative.
  • Written materials, such as plan information, can be translated to Braille or audio for blind and low-vision patients. Contact customer service to request material translations.

All patients deserve equal care and dignity when receiving it. For more tips and resources, visit the American Foundation for the Blind.

7 tips for serving deaf and hard-of-hearing patients

Happy National Deaf History Month! If you haven’t heard of this awareness month, it runs from March 13 to April 15. Nearly 15% of adult Americans report trouble hearing, so you may have patients who have hearing issues and aren’t even aware of it. If you don’t know American Sign Language (ASL) yourself, you may be at a loss for where to begin. Fortunately, there are plenty of steps, from the simple to the more complex, that you and your staff can take to help your deaf and hard-of-hearing patients feel at ease.

Simple steps

  • Have office protocols for serving deaf and hard-of-hearing patients. With a little bit of planning and forethought, you and your staff will be ready to welcome your deaf and hard-of-hearing patients from the moment they make an appointment until the moment they schedule their next one and head home. Make sure that your patients can schedule appointments without having to make a phone call, such as by text message, email or social media. You should also think about little touches for when your patient arrives, such as offering a dental cup to patients who may want to remove their hearing aids while they’re in the chair. (Hearing aids can be shockingly expensive and are definitely not something your patients want to lose!)
  • Speak slowly, clearly and directly facing your patient. This helps your patient read lips, as well as avoiding the possibility of carrying on a conversation with a patient’s “bad” ear. Given that you and your staff will likely be wearing a mask because of COVID-19, speaking slowly and clearly even more essential (you can also use clear facemasks).
  • Go the extra mile to make your patients feel comfortable. Patients who are experiencing hearing loss from old age may be embarrassed that they can’t follow conversations as closely as they used to. If you notice that a patient isn’t quite hearing you, apologize and repeat yourself with a focus on slow, clear communication.
  • Encourage your patients to talk openly with yourself and their other doctors. As a dental professional, you may notice a patient’s sensitivity to sound (or lack thereof) or other issues before the patient does. If you suspect that some of your patients may have hearing issues they’re not aware of, encourage them to consult their physician or a specialist.

These are all great steps that any practice can follow to better serve patients who are deaf and hard of hearing. If you have patients with greater needs, or you simply want to develop your practice’s capabilities, there’s even more you can do.

Taking it to the next level

  • Add more electronic text throughout your practice. The prevalence of text-based tools like email, online messaging and chat apps has been a game changer for many people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Increasing your digital presence and making your practice available through multiple venues both helps new patients to find you and existing patients to contact you through their preferred method. If your practice regularly posts videos on YouTube or other services, make sure that the videos are captioned.
  • Take American Sign Language (ASL) classes or add someone to your staff who knows ASL. Having staff members who know languages other than English is both a great way to reach a wider part of your community and a nice perk when it comes to updating your Find a Dentist directory listing. If you already have staff who are fluent in ASL, make sure you mention that on your directory listing! If your staff doesn’t have anyone who knows ASL, you can find classes at local universities, colleges and community colleges, as well as more specialized institutions like schools for deaf people, deaf service centers or interpreter training programs. If you’re not ready or able to sign up for classes, you can always learn a few key phrases online.
  • Make use of Delta Dental’s Language Assistance Program (LAP). The LAP is a free service that your Delta Dental patients can use to get professional interpretive services (along with phone assistance, written materials and more). This includes ASL interpreters who can come to your office to assist in communication.

More than 35 million people in the United States report having trouble hearing, whether they suffer from mild hearing loss or are completely deaf, so thinking about how to serve this population is well worth your time. Whether you want to master ASL or you just want to begin accepting appointments by email in addition to the phone, taking steps to make your practice more inviting to patients who are deaf and hard of hearing is well worth your time.

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